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Taking back the night on city transit

For TTC, pepper spray may be the better way

By Joel Baglole
Toronto Star Staff Reporter
Monday, August 24, 1998

At 2 a.m., Toronto’s subway trains have stopped, and nobody is supposed to be in the Toronto Transit Commission stations.

The sight of a 6-foot 6-inch man pacing, alone, up and down the edge of the Bloor subway platform alarms Dave Kalka and his platoon sergeant Dan Patrick, who are responding to a call from the station’s TTC money collector.

Patrick knows it’s never a good sign when someone is in a subway station after the trains have stopped.

“Let’s go see what’s up,” Patrick says to Kalka, as he pulls his Toronto Transit Security badge out of the back pocket of his jeans. Besides the badge, TTC security officers carry metal batons, radios and handcuffs. Soon the officers, who are called on to protect the public as well as other TTC workers, may also be armed with pepper foam after a decision last week by transit commissioners.

The man at the Bloor station sees the two security officers approaching and puts his back against the white tiled wall. In the distance, the first TTC work train can be heard rattling through the west end tunnel.

Before Patrick can question him, the man throws a punch at the two officers. The fight is on.

The light from the train creeps along the subway wall as Patrick and Kalka wrestle the man to the ground. The three of them roll on the yellow edge of the platform. Light from the train throws their tangled shadows on the white wall.

A janitor who has been watching the fight waves down the train operator, yelling at him to brake. The train screams to a halt about 60 centimetres from where Patrick and Kalka are slapping handcuffs on the man. Kalka’s legs hang over the side of the platform.

“That guy was on something,” Patrick says, after the man is put in the back of his white, unmarked Ford Crown Victoria. “One thing I’m scared about is wrestling around on those narrow platforms. Someone could fall, you know?”

Kalka nods in agreement. A week after the incident, Patrick drives by the Bloor station and chuckles nervously.

“That’s the thing with this job,” he says. “When you go down there, you never know who or what you’re going to meet.”

In the past five years, the TTC’s 57 security officers have been given cars outfitted with the same equipment as police cruisers - allowing them to respond to incidents on Toronto transit lines at a moment’s notice. Last July, the security officers were given the title of special constable and the powers of a regular police officer - powers that have helped their arrest record increase to 610 arrests in 1997 from 460 the previous year.

“The cruisers and the (police) powers allow us to be more effective,” Patrick says. “It might take us five minutes to get to a (money) collector or person in trouble. But to that person, it seems like forever.”

While the public and local politicians might have reservations about pepper foam, Patrick says he and his officers view it as the next step in allowing them to do a better, safer job. There have been 842 assaults on TTC employees in the past 4 1/2 years.

“The (pepper) foam will allow us to keep our distance,” Patrick begins to explain.

Suddenly, the car radio crackles.

“148-S. 148-S.” Patrick responds.

Thirty youths are trashing the Dundas subway station. Patrick speeds down Yonge St.

When the cruiser pulls up, two other security cruisers are at the scene. Steve Ellis and Manny Carabott chat with two police constables, while Glen MacNeill and Alan Hanson come over to brief Patrick on the situation. MacNeill still has a hand on his retractable metal baton.

“They all took off,” MacNeill tells Patrick, as he leans into the car window. “Apparently, one of the youths stole like 30 transfers, came up here, passed them out to his buddies, and then they all tried to go through the gates (in the station).”

Patrick shakes his head.

“When the (money) collector locked up the gates and wouldn’t let them in, they went berserk. Throwing around the garbage cans, trying to smash the (collector’s) glass, everything like that.”

Patrick figures the youths are heading up Yonge St. to try and use the transfers at another subway station. He drives to the Wellesley station.

“This is our worst station,” Patrick says. “If anyone’s going to be killed, it’s going to be here. People always try to sneak into the subway through those side doors where the buses come in and unload. Most of our problems are over fare disputes.”

When Patrick enters the station, Kalka and Bill Perivolaris are coming up the stairs with William, a known homeless man and glue-sniffer who frequently sleeps in the subway. Kalka and Perivolaris have been riding the trains all night, looking for potential problems.

Kalka takes William into a small interview room to write him a $65 ticket for trespassing.

“William’s a runner. You let go of him and boom, he takes off,” says Perivolaris, a beefy man who wears a plaid cut-off shirt over his bulletproof vest. “We’ll ticket him, but he’ll just throw it away. By the time he gets to the front door over there, he won’t remember what’s in his hand.”

The other security officers arrive at Wellesley to see whether the youths who trashed the Dundas station have shown up. While Kalka shows William to the front door, the others talk.

“I been here for 23 years,” Carabott says. “And I can tell you, morale has really improved for the better. When I first started, we had no handcuffs, no cars, nothing. Now we have more authority and direction.”

TTC security officers, who earn $53,000 a year plus full benefits, used to all travel on subway trains, which made getting to calls difficult because they depended on trains like regular commuters.

“The joke used to be, `Oh, security’s here, so I guess everything must be over,’ ” Ellis says.

Now, rather than stall offenders and wait for police to arrive, the security officers can arrest and transport people directly to jail.

And all the men on `D’ platoon nod their approval of the TTC’s decision to give them pepper foam - the equivalent of pepper spray but in a foam so it doesn’t ricochet and hit innocent people.

The pepper foam still has to be approved by the Toronto police services board and Solicitor-General Bob Runciman, a process that could take several months.

“Getting the pepper (foam) is the next step,” MacNeill says. “It’s a nice alternative to the stick (baton).”

None of the officers on `D’ platoon have ever used their baton on a person. But they’ve all had to draw them at some point.

“A guy reached back for a knife on me one night, and I snapped her (baton) open,” Perivolaris says. “It scared the hell out of me. See right now, we don’t have a step between grabbing a guy with our hands and whacking him with the baton, which is your last resort. But when you spray a guy, it’s over. You don’t have to fight.”

As the talk continues, two skinny men try to sneak into the subway through the bus doors. Neither of them recognizes the group of plainclothes security officers. The officers all laugh and take the men into the interview room.

The two men are homeless. The first man, Daniel, who’s originally from Montreal, declares that he has full-blown AIDS and warns the officers not to touch him.

“People say we don’t need pepper spray, let me tell you, we start rolling around with that guy and he bites us, or starts bleeding, and it’s game over,” Perivolaris says.

“If we had pepper spray, we wouldn’t have to touch him if he resisted (arrest).”